While there's lots of room for Office to expand into online functionality and real-time collaboration, there's not much new territory to be explored within the traditional applications themselves. Rather than introduce dozens of new features, Microsoft has tried to make some of the existing capabilities work better, tweaked and extended the Ribbon design introduced in Office 2007 and added a few new bells and whistles.
Word: Is there anything more to add to Word? Not much, according to Microsoft developers, and most users would probably agree. So they focused on making common tasks smoother and existing tools more powerful.
Microsoft developers have data on what thousands of testers do with their products and they noticed one worrisome trend: People very frequently cut-and-paste text into their documents, but in many cases their next act is to undo. The problem is that the text they pasted, whether from another document, a Web page or a spreadsheet, doesn't show up the way they want it to in their file. So a new box appears when you paste text that gives you options for how to format it. Hover over the button for an option and the text changes to preview what it'll look like if you choose that option.
The new version of Word also makes it easier to insert pictures. Instead of being stuck with essentially how the picture looked when you inserted it, you can now make significant edits once it's in your document:, such as adjusting the brightness and contrast, changing the image to greyscale, adding drop shadows, and more.
Excel: The new version of Excel will allow you to create sparkline charts, which are tiny graphs that fit within a cell and summarize the data in the preceding cells. Another addition is slicers. These are essentially macro buttons that allow you to filter the data in a pivot table with one click.
We hope that both new features will be better explained in the final version of Excel because we couldn't manage to make either work in my preview version. Neither is included in the preview versions help file and both were greyed out on the Ribbon bar.
Outlook: Microsoft seems to have made an effort to make Outlook fit in more, making it more like the rest of Office by giving it the full Ribbon interface and more like Webmail services like Gmail by showing threaded conversations.
In Office 2007, Outlook was inexplicably left out of the Ribbon makeover. While Microsoft developers at the time had a rationale, it seemed to me like they had just ran out of time to rework the mail clients interface. Now it gets the full treatment and whether you love the Ribbon or hate it, at least the suite is now consistent.
If you're on a long string of replies to a single e-mail, Outlook will now pull all of those messages together so you can see them all at once. If you get tired of the conversation, you can click to ignore it, automatically deleting the messages and any future replies. (The feature is similar to muting a conversation in Gmail.)
Quick Steps is a promising new feature that's confusingly implemented in the preview version. The idea is that you can easily create a macro that lets you do the same thing with various messages with one click. For instance, we created a Quick Step that automatically forwarded a message with the "WTF?:" inserted before the subject.
But that Quick Step showed up only in the drafts folder, where it was created, and not in the inbox. In fact, the menu for Quick Steps didn't appear at all in the inbox, only when we opened a specific message -- and even then the presentation of this feature was entirely different than it was in the drafts folder.
Powerpoint: The most useful addition to Powerpoint is the ability to broadcast a presentation without setting up a Web meeting. You can share the presentation to a Sharepoint workplace, if your company uses Sharepoint, or to a Microsoft Windows Live account. (The Windows Live option will be free.) Then you can invite others to view the presentation. They'll see it in their browser and won't need to have Powerpoint installed.
The latest version of Microsoft's presentation tool adds some nifty new 3D transitions, like the ability to seemingly overlay your new slide over the previous one or to dissolve from one slide to another. Here's a video that shows most of them in action.
Powerpoint has ways to go to match some of the transitions that are possible in Apple's Keynote software, though, like the capability to rearrange the objects on one slide into a new organization on the next one.
Powerpoint 2010 makes it easier to "borrow" an animation from a slide deck that you really like. You can copy the animation and apply it to objects in your own presentation.